“It was mental to agree to meet with him, wasn’t it?” Ginny said yet again to Ron and Hermione as they finished their dinner on Monday evening. “I must have only agreed because I was still a little out of it from that potion, right?”
“Probably,” Ron said, watching Hermione as she fed James. “You should send him an owl straightaway and cancel. Don’t you think, Hermione?”
“Whatever you think is best,” she replied offhandedly. She was smiling indulgently at James as he waved a spoon around and was barely listening to the conversation.
Ordinarily the fact that Hermione didn’t want to express her opinion wouldn’t have given Ginny cause for concern. Perhaps she thought it best not to give her advice. What troubled Ginny was the fact that Hermione hadn’t been herself since Christmas. Sometimes, like when she was around James, she seemed happy, but the rest of the time she was moody and irritable. At Christmas Hermione had blamed it on overwork, but she couldn’t keep using that as an excuse. The proposal that she had been working on had been brought before the Committee in January and her workload had reduced significantly since then, but her irritability had been increasing at an alarming rate. Ron seemed especially susceptible to Hermione’s bad mood, and spent a lot of time trying to placate her, but he wasn’t having much success. Ginny debated for a moment about saying all this, but decided that she preferred to avoid a row at the moment.
“If Hedwig wasn’t off again, I’d have her deliver a letter to Fohn straight away, saying I’ve changed my mind,” Ginny said after a moment. Hedwig was frequently gone for days and weeks at a time. She was undoubtedly searching for Harry
“You can borrow Pig if you want,” Ron offered, still focusing on Hermione. He looked tense, as though she was a bomb that he was expecting to go off at any moment. “It’s best to let him know as soon as possible.”
“Yeah. But . . . ” Ginny fell silent, thinking.
It had been like this for two days. Every time she had decided what to do about Fohn, she would think of a reason to do just the opposite. It could turn out to be a huge mistake, this meeting, but what if she could somehow persuade him of how ridiculous his campaign was? It was a long shot, but one that would be worth it if it worked. She tried, yet again, to explain this to Ron, who couldn’t see her reasoning.
“He’s a nutter, the same as that Orion Chase that was after Keddle,” Ron said, giving her his full attention at last. “I’m telling you, Ginny, you’re not going to persuade him of anything. He just wants a couple good photos of the two of you together so he can say you support his cause.”
“I don’t though.”
“You haven’t said so publicly, and if you start appearing with him people will think you do. They might even think that all the rubbish he’s been putting about about you and Harry is true.”
“Dada?” James asked, holding out his arms to Ron, interrupting Ginny’s retort.
This was not the first time that James had said this since the day of the match. Ginny supposed that it was natural for him to say such a thing, given how often Ron and Hermione were around, but it tugged at her heartstrings to hear him say so, aside from the sheer awkwardness of it. Hermione in particular was angered by it. Her smile dissolved into a scowl.
“Uncle,” Ron corrected, emphasizing the world. “Uncle, not dad. Er . . . What was I saying?”
“You were trying to convince your sister that she’s wrong to meet with Fohn,” Hermione snapped, jumping out of her chair. “You’re wasting your breath though, because she’s obviously made up her mind.”
“I have not,” Ginny replied, also getting to her feet.
“Oh, Ginny, come off it.” Hermione rolled her eyes as she handed James back to Ginny. “D’you really want us to believe that you’re letting Hedwig’s absence dictate your decision? How many owls do the Harpies have? Or if you don’t want to use them you could use Pigwidgeon, Hermes or Errol.”
“I -” Ginny started, unsure of what she was going to say.
“No matter how many times you say you only agreed to meet with Fohn because you were suffering the effects of that potion, you won’t be able to make it true. You’re only agonizing over this decision because you’re clinging to the past, too scared to move on.”
“The past has nothing to do with it,” Ginny said, reflexively tightening her hold on James. The past, of course, meant Harry.
“Leave it alone,” Ron advised Hermione. She glared at him and continued as though he hadn’t said a word.
“Have you forgotten what happened with Hugh at Christmas? You took one step towards moving on and then retreated back into your shell, leaning on the crutch that is Harry. Don’t you think it’s time you accept that he’s probably dead?”
Ginny felt winded, as though Hermione had punched her in the stomach. She had to clutch the counter for support.
“Enough,” Ron said. He, too, stood up, towering over both of them, and holding out his hands to each, as though preventing them from charging at each other.
“I think you should go,” Ginny said, turning away as she buried her face in James’s hair.
“Yes. We have been spending far too much time here,” Hermione replied impatiently and she left the room. They heard her open the closet door and pull out her jacket.
“I’m sorry,” Ron said, putting his hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “She doesn’t really mean that. She’s just -”
“Don’t make excuses for her. Just go home and get some sleep . . . or whatever. Maybe she’ll be nicer if she’s well rested.”
“Doubtful,” Ron muttered, but after squeezing Ginny’s shoulder he followed Hermione. Seconds later the door slammed behind them.
As she watched James play with the rubber duck her father had bought him for Christmas, Ginny thought about the conversation. She couldn’t understand what happened. One minute they were enjoying dinner, and then out of nowhere it was like someone had flipped a switch and Hermione seemed to come to the boil, full of spite and anger. Until this evening, Ginny never would have thought Hermione could be so callous. She decided she needed to find out what was going on with her, but it would be difficult, because neither Ron nor Hermione would talk about what was going on with them.
By the time Ginny put James to bed she could no longer avoid thinking about Hermione’s last question. It was echoing in the corners of her mind, and in response what felt like every possible memory she’d ever shared with Harry was floating to the forefront of her mind. As she set the dishes to wash an image of the table covered in long scrolls of parchment and Harry trying to eat and read at the same time. While she tidied up the sitting room, she remembered lying on the sofa and Harry rubbing her feet. She paused in the act of toweling her hair dry after her shower to recall a time when she stood in this exact spot with Harry kissing her neck, his stubble tickling her skin. She reached up to touch her neck, catching sight of her ring in the mirror. She stared at it for several long seconds, thinking about what Hermione said. The same thought had passed through her mind on occasion, but she still wasn’t sure she could accept the finality.
“For Merlin’s sake,” she said firmly, shaking her head and leaving the room. What she needed was a good night’s sleep.
When she crawled into bed ten minutes later, Ginny squeezed her eyes tightly shut and tried to clear her mind, but almost at once her eyes snapped open again and she stared at the patch of light on her ceiling. She twisted her ring, as she so often did when she was nervous, but without consciously intending to do so, she slipped it off and stared at it as it shone in the light. It was the first time she’d taken it off since Harry had given it to her all those months ago. That thought alone almost made Ginny put it back on, but instead, taking a deep breath, she set it on the bedside cabinet.
“Mental,” she said and rolled onto her back.
She didn’t sleep well at all and was up at the first light of dawn. The ring was still where she had left it. Ginny picked it up and started to slide it onto her finger, but stopped. Was she really delusional for daring to think that all hope was not lost?
The answer to that question wasn’t going to come to her that morning, but Ginny decided that perhaps Hermione had a point, she needed to think realistically. So instead of putting the ring on again, she pulled its box out of her drawer and put the ring inside it, taking another moment to stare at it before she snapped the box shut. The sound was deafening.
It was hard, holding to her decision, but Ginny managed it, though she kept rubbing her finger, something that her mother notices. She was gratefull that Molly did nothing more than open her eyes a little wider when she noticed Ginny was without it, the last thing Ginny wanted was to have a long drawn out conversation. She supposed Molly must have thought she was starting to move on though, because she winked suggestively as Ginny and Tougas were heading out the door.
“What was all that about?” he asked as they headed down the stairs, careful to avoid the packed boxes that the Cavils had stacked in the hall again.
“What?” Ginny asked, feeling happy now that she saw the Cavils were actually moving out. Hopefully her new neighbour would be a lot more cheerful.
“Your mother’s wink?” Tougas said impatiently. “She’s not getting ideas about us again, is she?”
“Probably,” Ginny replied, pushing the door open and swallowing a mouthful of fresh air. “But don’t worry, I know you’re in love with Briony. Asked her out yet?”
“I can tell you how to do it if you need help,” she continued cheekily, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear. She wasn’t used to such short hair (it barely brushed her shoulders now).
Pausing mid-stride, Tougas’s scowl faltered. Ginny was certain he looked guilty.
“Wrong?” he asked gruffly. “Nothing’s wrong aside from the fact that you’re making me late again, Weasley.”
“Bollocks. You were thinking something just then,” she asked, jogging to keep up with him as he lengthened his strides. “What was it?”
“Just surprised to see you’re not wearing the ring,” he admitted. And then, as though he needed to change topics as quickly as possible he said, “You’re meeting with Fohn today?”
They turned into the street and continued walking at a brisk pace. Ginny was sure that Tougas wasn’t going to answer her question, but she didn’t want to let it drop.
“Why? What aren’t you telling me?”
“He’s not dangerous, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Tougas stopped walking and Ginny walked into him. “He’s not dangerous in the usual sense, anyway, but he does have the uncanny knack of being able to twist anything to his benefit. Be careful what you say.”
Ginny nodded, wondering if Tougas was channeling Ron.
The usual crowd that hung around the stadium was larger today than it had been since early December, and they had to struggle to get through it. People pressed in on all sides, shouting questions, most of which had to do with Keddle’s stalker. Ginny took Tougas’s earlier advice and didn’t answer any questions.
“Damn it,” Tougas said loudly as they neared the entrance. He put his hand on Ginny’s arm to stop her.
“What?” she asked, annoyed that he was going to hold her up when she was feet away from the door. She turned in time to see him scan the crowd. The guilty expression he had worn earlier flashed across his face for a moment, and was quickly replaced by his usual scowl.
“Wait here,” he said, offering no further explanation before wading into the crowd.
“Bloody hell!” Ginny rolled her eyes in disgust and watched Tougas pull someone out of the crowd and off to the side. It was the same reporter who had overheard James call Ron Dada, and the two men were having what appeared to be a heated discussion, Tougas seemed to be the more flustered of the pair. Despite herself, Ginny was impressed by the reporter. He didn’t look at all intimidated by Tougas though the latter could have snapped him in two like a twig.
Ginny made no secret of the fact that she was watching the two men, and after a moment the reporter saw her. He smiled and waved. Tougas snatched his hand out of the air and moved closer in a clearly threatening manner, momentarily blocking Ginny from his view as he finished his conversation. When he returned he was muttering furiously under his breath.
“What was all that about?” Ginny asked as they walked through the doors.
“What?” Tougas asked, looking back distractedly. “Oh that was nothing. Some stupid reporter wanting to be paid off for holding his tongue about your son.”
“Oh?” Maybe that reporter wasn’t so impressive after all. “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
“Yeah?” His lip curled and he looked doubtful, yet resigned. “Listen, Weasley, there’s something we need to talk about. I wanted to do it before we left this morning, but . . . Come in here a moment.”
He pulled her into the gift shop supply room and waved his wand. The lock clicked.
“If people see us coming out of here you know they’re going to talk,” Ginny said, half-amused and slightly squeamish at the idea.
“That’s unimportant. What is important is that you’re getting a new downstairs neighbour. Some elderly chap named Peter Thomas, no relation to Dean, before you ask. We’ve checked him out. He’s a Muggle, and he’s clean.”
“You had to pull me into a cupboard to tell me this?”
“The world doesn’t need to know that, nor do we want it being spread about that as of month end I will no longer be able to escort you to work every day.
“Why?” Ginny asked, startled.
“You finally get what you want after all these months, and you’re not jumping for joy?”
“Yes, I am, on the inside. But it’s all rather sudden, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not. I just haven’t said anything about it. Lestrange is rearing her head again. All the break-ins,” Tougas explained when Ginny looked at him in confusion. “Now that we have Chase safely locked up in Azkaban I’ve been told to investigate these break-ins.”
And about time, Ginny thought, but didn’t say as much because she had more pressing questions, like why things were happening at this precise moment. If they still thought that she was Lestrange’s target because of Harry, and they thought Lestrange was behind the break-ins, then it would make sense that they would be increasing security. Unless they were and didn’t want to tell her.
“This Thomas bloke,” she started slowly, chewing her lip. “Is he really a Muggle, or does he only pretend to be one some of the time?”
“What kind of ridiculous question is that?” Tougas asked loudly. “He’s just a Muggle, an old man whose wife died. He’s moving out of his house in Hampstead.”
“OK, OK,” she said, putting up her hand. “It was just a thought.”
“Well get that thought out of your head, then.” He had already opened the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ginny had the distinct impression that Tougas wanted to get away from her as quickly as he could, and would have Disapparated from inside the tiny room if he’d been able. She stepped out after him, and watched his retreating back with a furrowed brow. Something had changed since the match. She didn’t believe this sudden urgency in the Lestrange case. There was something he wasn’t telling her.
“I thought you would never get here,” Keddle said, intruding on Ginny’s thoughts. She was wearing a wide smile, too wide to be natural.
“I’m not late, am I?”
“No. Where’s your ring?”
“At home.” Ginny stuffed her hand into her pocket as they started down the corridor. She had expected the question, and had the simplest answer ready, and would hopefully be able to divert the other questions. “How are you doing, Eva? What was it like being back home.”
“Thanks to you I’m very well. Being back home was fantastic. Well, you know, having my own things around. It’s just -”
“Different?” Ginny suggested. She couldn’t pretend to imagine what Keddle had gone through, but she remembered enough how she couldn’t stay at Harry’s flat after what happened with Dudley. Was Keddle experiencing something similar?
“Different?” Keddle tried the word on, nodding after a moment. She contemplated it for a moment longer, before saying, “I talked to Rossi. He says with the statements you and I have given they’re going to be able to put Chase away for a long time. That’s good news, isn’t it?”
“He wants to go over your statement at lunch.”
“I can’t. I’ve got that meeting with Fohn today,” Ginny replied, pushing open the door and entering the changing rooms. “We can do it after practice.”
The best thing about practice in Ginny’s opinion was that it drove everything but Quidditch from the mind. They spent the first few hours reviewing their errors from the Tornados game, and then finally headed out onto the pitch to do some flying. Ginny was happy to think of nothing other than scoring goals, and diving opponents. She didn’t have to think about what other people were saying, or that they might be holding secret discussions about her.
Ginny’s euphoria was diminished, however, as she watched the others head off to lunch as she pulled her jacket on and headed outside . Now the meeting with Fohn was upon her, she was once again wondering if she would have done better to back out.
The Leaky Cauldron wasn’t particularly crowded but it was dimly lit compared to the dazzling sun outside. Several wizards sat in a corner, sucking on long pipes that were filling the whole place with a truly horrible stench that reminded Ginny very much of Mundungus Fletcher. She had to pinch her nose closed as she walked past, trying to spot Fohn. She only noticed him when he waved at her.
“Ah, Miss Weasley, right on time,” he said, smiling widely, swivelling in his stool and almost forgetting that Hannah Abbott was there. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering you a Butterbeer.”
“I don’t drink it,” Ginny said, remaining on her feet as she pushed the bottle away. She’d lost her liking for the stuff ever since Dudley had spiked hers with that potion. “Water is fine, thanks Hannah.”
Once Ginny had her drink in hand, Fohn, obviously realizing that she wasn’t going to sit beside him at the bar, led the way to a table in the very corner of the room.
“You seem pleased. Your training is going well, I take it?” he said, taking a swig of his Butterbeer.
“As well as we can hope for.”
“Your performance on Saturday was impressive. It’s too bad that your Seeker had such a rough go of it. How is she doing?”
“As well as can be expected, given the circumstances,” Ginny replied, taking another sip of her water. “You didn’t ask me here to talk about Quidditch though, did you?”
“I’ll remind you, Mr. Fohn that I have limited time and would appreciate that you get to your point.”
“I see that you are no longer wearing your engagement ring. That is a new development since we last met.” He was unfazed by her curt answers.
“So?” Ginny was starting to lose her patience. “That’s not relevant to this meeting either.”
“No, it isn’t. I’m not going to talk about Harry either, and if that’s why you’ve asked me here -”
“I asked you here because I think there are a great many things we have in common,” Fohn said, dropping some of his smooth tone.
“We have nothing in common!”
“We both care about our families, and have been sadly disappointed by them. You with Mr. Potter, I by my sister, Briony.”
“You don’t know anything about – What?” Ginny stared at Fohn, open-mouthed. Briony wasn’t a very common name. Could he really mean the very Briony that she had been teasing Tougas about not four hours earlier?
“Yes,” Fohn said, his oily smile faltering for the first time. “My dear sister who decided to publicly disgrace our family.”
Ginny set her glass on the table and leaned in, despite herself. She had never been a fan of Briony Wright’s, but she couldn’t imagine that there was anything disgraceful about her, apart from the fact that she was related to Delores Umbridge . . . which meant that Fohn was as well. This meeting was just getting better and better!
“You’re related to Umbridge?” Ginny asked loudly, feeling her blood boil.
“Indeed, I am.” Fohn eyed her warily. This time he didn’t smile, and Ginny was visited by the idea that he just might have been telling the truth about how he felt for his family.
“Are you trying to get me to hate you? Because you’re doing a damn good job.”
Fohn laughed. “No, no. Merely trying to tell you that we have something in common. My sister abandoned her family as well”
Something in common? He was related to Umbridge, yet he was calling Briony a disgrace? And he thought that he was going to get on her good side by saying that Briony’s defection from a family that included Umbridge, and Harry’s disappearance were one and the same? There were never two situations less alike.
“My sister always thought she was above her family.” HIs voice was dripping with contempt. “She was ashamed of who she was, so she decided to try to pretend she was someone else. She started causing trouble when my Aunt Delores was at Hogwarts, took up with that Bredan Tougas, and has been lost to us ever since.”
“I’d have done the same, you know. It must have been murder living in that house with your aunt running amok.” Ginny took another sip of her drink, thinking about what Fohn had just said. A thought occurred to her: they sounded almost like Sirius and his brother Regulus, one brother towing the family line, the other rebelling against it. Was the whole W.A.N.D. movement an attempt to please his parents?
“You started a hate group to make up for what you think is Briony’s monstrous betrayal?”
“Oh now . . . Nothing about what we do promotes hate.”
“Come on. It’s all in the name. ‘Nobility Debasement?” Ginny asked, with a laugh. “You’re ‘promoting’ purebloods over all others, like my son. Come to think of it, I’m surprised that you want to be seen with me, a blood traitor of the highest order.”
“We’re just hoping to bring back some of the old prestige of -”
“At the expense of other people! You cannot honestly believe that I would help you in any way with whatever your plans are, Mr. Fohn. Not when you share such similar ideals to the Death Eaters, and I’ve had enough experience of them.”
For the first time Fohn seemed to lose heart, telling Ginny that she was close to the truth. She watched him run his finger along the side of his bottle for a moment, feeling disgusted, and stupid that she hadn’t listened to Ron in the first place.
“I’ve got to get back,” she said, downing the last of her water.
Fohn didn’t get up as Ginny slid out of her seat and headed for the bar to say goodbye to Hannah. She had barely got two words out however when a large group of people entered from the Diagon Alley entrance to the pub. Almost at once, Fohn was at Ginny’s side, putting an arm tightly around her shoulder, holding tight when she tried to shake him off.
“Ladies, gentlemen, thank you for being so punctual.” He had once again resumed his public persona. “I have asked you to join Miss Weasley and myself here at this historic pub to show you what cost our waning ancestral pride brings us. Miss. Weasley, from one of the oldest pureblood families has had her fair share of troubles, as you are well aware. But she’s been able to overcome it, and we can learn by her example.”
Her eyes felt like they were going to pop out of her head, she was so angry. At last Ginny managed to free herself. After everything that she had just said. Her refusal to help him was unequivocal, and he had ignored absolutely everything. No, he was out and out lying, trying to spread the idea that she was going to be the new mascot for his cause. But she was not going to let him get away with it.
“I have already told you, Mr. Fohn that I don’t support you or your cause, I don’t believe you are bringing anything but hate into this world, and I will not help you to do that in any way. Never! In fact, after what you’ve just done, I’ve decided to do everything in my power to make sure you can’t spread your poison.”
Ginny walked past a crowd of close to a dozen reporters, watching as they frantically tried to record everything that had just happened. So Ron had been right again, who knew?